Melissa Klopfer

Melissa Klopfer ()

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Aviano Elementary School principal Melissa Klopfer was named elementary school principal of the year for Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe on Friday, a month after DODDS-Europe named Aviano’s high school principal the best in Europe.

“It’s like a two-run home run,” DODDS-Europe spokesman David Ruderman said.

Klopfer now will be considered for principal of the year for all of DODDS in the elementary school category. Aviano High School principal Doug McEnery is being considered in the high school category. In addition, Aviano High School assistant principal Susan Page won the Department of Defense-wide award last year.

Thomas Ellinger, superintendent of the Mediterranean District, which includes 18 schools in Italy, Spain and Turkey, said he was impressed with Klopfer the first time he met her more than two decades ago. A kindergarten teacher in Iwakuni, Japan, at the time, Klopfer stood out with her command of a classroom and personal interaction with pupils, said Ellinger, who had visited the school on a site inspection.

“She was just dynamic,” Ellinger said.

Ellinger later tapped Klopfer to serve as principal of an elementary school in the Azores, after she served various roles in Turkey and Japan. He recalled seeing her office filled with children one morning and was impressed to learn that Klopfer mentored select pupils, he said.

When Aviano Elementary opened three years ago, Ellinger picked Klopfer to head it. The school has about 750 pupils.

Klopfer remains the dynamic teacher she was two decades ago, Ellinger said, with a constant emphasis on reading and personal interaction with children. One program that stands out in Ellinger’s mind: Aviano Elementary School has three classes that include pupils of different grade levels, allowing children to advance according to their skills rather than age, he said.

“Ideas just pop out of her head,” Ellinger said.

Klopfer still finds time to mentor children. Two of her pupils, whose parents are out of the country for Air Force training, carry her cellular telephone number with them, she said.

Klopfer said her role in consolidating three elementary schools — from Aviano, Perdenone and Vagont — into one school with 765 children probably helped her earn the nomination. She was involved with everything from fire escape plans to building new curricula, she said.

“As teachers we are taught to find the genius in every child,” Klopfer said. “But my job is to find the genius in every teacher.”

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